(The processes behind the “The Judges” story.)
How a story happened, part one:
A while ago I had to head up towards Boston for a meeting. Unusually, the meeting was to be over Sunday lunch, so I’d had to find a hotel for a Saturday night.
I was with a friend – make work pleasurable if you can – so I was happy enough with the idea of a weekend away. The problem lay with finding somewhere to stay that will take a booking for just a Saturday night.
To cut a tedious tale to size, we ended up staying in a slightly dowdy roadside hotel. One other guest, a single chap, looked like a salesman; when we arrived he’d been in the hotel lounge poking away at a laptop with a case of what looked like cleaning product samples open by his feet. All the other guests were with a wedding party – as I’d been forewarned when I booked. That evening, over pre-dinner drinks, the meal and coffee and a drink afterwards, whenever I glanced at the salesman he was watching the wedding guests.
How a story happened, part two:
For reasons unclear to me, I keep finding myself thinking about context; everything exists in a context – including words on a page. At the same time, I’m attracted to the idea of offering an audience some words (or some music, or a picture) with as little context as possible, or a context as stripped of meaning as possible.
How a story happened, part three:
It’s sometimes possible to enjoy hot English summer days. Hot English summer nights are almost always grim: English houses aren’t built for hot weather. Lying awake, not quite panting though I might as well have been in a stifling, airless bedroom, this sequence of thoughts just happened, as thoughts sometimes do. Herewith as I noted them down, reproduced verbatim*:
~ handing stories to strangers in the street would be appealingly low on context;
~ people would judge you on how you looked though;
~ that salesman in that hotel near Boston was judging everyone;
~ did he know he was being judgemental, did he understand his actions in those terms;
~ I doubt it;
~ I wonder how he’d react to being judged, out of the blue;
~ he’d probably be defensive/aggressive;
~ that defensive aggression could probably be negated if he was wrong-footed first;
~ get under his defences, undermine prejudices;
~ undermine him via a common taboo – make him feel small or mean-spirited; sex, illness, mental health or something.
And later the same night** –
~ Why? Point of story?
~ To suggest the value of asking questions, of their lives, of themselves;
~ A belief in the value of questioning;
~ A certainty about the value of uncertainty …
How a story happened, part four:
You have to appreciate that at some point you have to stop asking questions and just get on with it.
So, I started work on bringing all the above together. That process is itself creative – you have to allow the bringing of it all together to suggest – sometimes force – whatever further changes are necessary to create something that stands alone. You can try as much as you like, but you can’t predict everything that the story and its characters will require. ***
* Matt Johnson (The The) was told by Tom Waits (Tom Waits): “Always take your notebook everywhere. That’s your butterfly net.” I’m rarely without paper and pen, including – perhaps especially – during the nights.
** On a second piece of paper too, natch. Bullet points are a product of the computing / word-processor era. Did anyone write in bullet points a few decades ago? Did people think in bullet-points a few decades ago? Did the concept exist? Is thinking in bullet points laudable for its clarity or trite in its simplicity?
*** The Judges